Speaking of Roger Angell, after going to hear David Maraniss talk about his new book on Roberto Clemente last night, I was reminded of Angell’s description of Clemente in the 1971 World Serious. Maraniss spoke about Clemente’s game going deeper than what the numbers can tell us, and I don’t think he meant it as a cop-out. It was meant it as a way of describing somebody whose very body language was memorable–all of a piece. “Sensations” was the term Maraniss used and Clemente certainly made the country take notice with his performance–on the bases, in the field and at the plate–in that Serious (by the way, for what it is worth, Maraniss believes that Clemente would have been a fine player today, and he compared him to two other athletes of that era whose games suggested something timeless–Gayle Sayers and Earl Monroe).
Before Game 7, Clemente told Angell, “I want everybody in the world to know that this is the way I play all the time. All season, every season. I gave everything I had to this game.” The final game hadn’t begun yet, when Angell, summing-up the first six games, wrote:
And then too, there was the shared experience, already permanently fixed in memory, of Roberto Clemente playing a kind of baseball that none of us had ever seen before–throwing and running and hitting at something close to the level of perfection, playing to win but also playing the game as if it were a form of punishment for everyone else on the field.
Now, that’s a sensation.